Reusable Containers For Food Delivery Won’t Reduce Much Plastic Waste

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed the efforts of environmentalists and environmental lovers to reduce plastic waste.

According to a study by six alumni of the National University of Singapore’s Master of Science (Environmental Management), Singaporeans generated an additional 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste during the two-month breaker.

This equates to the weight of 92 double-decker buses, and is largely due to the surge in take-out and delivery.

Recently, three food delivery giants in Singapore – GrabFood, foodpanda and Deliveroo – have started offering the option for customers to have their meals delivered in reusable containers.

But will it help reduce plastic waste?

A courageous effort to reduce plastic waste

muuse ​​containers
Image Credit: Muuse via Facebook

They have partnered with two food container sharing services in Singapore called Muuse and BarePack.

Both companies offer similar services; they provide disposable containers that can be used for food deliveries.

Instead of throwing the containers in the trash, customers must return them to participating restaurants.

barepack containers
Image Credit: BarePack via Facebook

Currently there are around 100 restaurants under BarePack and 50 under Muuse.

GrabFood launched its partnership with Muuse last month and has 18 restaurants on board.

Meanwhile, Deliveroo started its partnership with BarePack in August. Although BarePack is available for take out at over 100 restaurants across Singapore, the Deliveroo website only lists eight.

Foodpanda has partnered with Muuse and BarePack since July and April respectively, with a total of 71 outlets under the two partnerships.

These partnerships show that efforts have been made by both large companies and startups to reduce plastic waste.

BarePack told TodayOnline that its partnership with Foodpanda has so far saved more than 50kg of plastic.

However, it is not known whether these efforts will significantly alter the amount of plastic waste generated.

A logistical challenge

reusable container for food delivery
Image credit: Sale of lunch boxes

Startups like Muuse and BarePack are likely to face logistical challenges in their implementation of these services. One example is making sure customers return reusable containers.

Both companies have measures in place to prevent customers from keeping reusable containers indefinitely.

Muuse charges S $ 25 to customers who do not return their containers after 14 days.

On the other hand, those who are not members of BarePack must pay a deposit of S $ 6 and they will only get this money back when they return their containers.

However, the imposition of such deposits could deter customers from using the service itself in the first place.

Additionally, customers and restaurants have to make an effort to wash the containers which can be a problem for establishments that are already facing labor shortages etc.

Singaporeans love convenience

The demand for convenience in Singapore continues to increase.

According to a 2018 report by the Singapore Environment Council, a significant number of Singaporeans cited inconvenience as one of the reasons for not recycling.

The love of convenience is also precisely the reason why the food delivery industry has been booming in recent years.

For Singaporeans who might not have a lot of extra time without work, delivering food in disposable containers is a huge time saver.

In addition to having to wash the containers, people also need to research participating restaurants to return them.

Currently, only a small percentage of food outlets in Singapore subscribe to services like those offered by Muuse and BarePack.

Echoing this statement, Vanessa Tan, 25, told Vulcan Post that she was hesitant to use such container-sharing services as there are only a few establishments where she could return containers in the area where she is. lives.

Therefore, those who do not live near participating restaurants may find it difficult to participate in these initiatives, even if they wish to.

What is a better alternative?

singapore hawker center take out
Image Credit: SCMP

Although it started with a noble cause, using reusable containers for food delivery services might not be sustainable unless the turnout is high enough.

Also, it leaves out a very integral aspect of Singapore’s food scene – hawking centers.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), there are more than 100 peddling centers in Singapore, most of them located deep in the land.

Instead of using regular disposable containers to take to hawking centers, reusable containers can be used instead.

While the concept is similar to what the food delivery giants are piloting, customers may be more likely to participate in this initiative if container return stations are widespread enough.

In addition, the frequentation of hawking centers is high due to affordable and practical factors. Therefore, returning the containers would be much easier as there is a hawking center in each neighborhood.

Ultimately, these initiatives can only have a significant impact on reducing plastic waste in Singapore if enough people participate.

Until then, it is worth trying to implement them in places that are easily accessible to the masses, so that it can also change mindsets at the same time.

Featured Image Credit: BarePack via Facebook

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Jothi Venkat

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